I was about thirteen when I started to visit grandma on my own. I didn’t know much about the Bronx other than the long train ride to White Plans Road, East 225 street, and then the dreaded six -block walk from the train station to her house. Mind you, these were not city blocks, Bronx streets ran double in length. I created all sorts of scenarios to endure this walk. Finally, I learned to fuel up at the corner store beforehand. Having chips and soda made the walk more bearable. The challenge was to make my supplies last until I got there.
Manhattan trains ran underground. This station was outside and elevated. The quiet streets below had shops located along the train route. The side streets were residential. You might find a car repair shop, or a church- but no stores. I recall one shop right at the foot of the stairs coming down from the platform. Inside I discovered red, gold, and green beaded earrings, crocheted tams, and hats. There was incense, oils, groceries items I had not seen before, even the music was different. Today we would call it a Jamaican shop. Looking back, I laugh at this- I am sure from the shopkeeper’s perspective it was simply his store. He just sold items from back home. I would stop in whenever mom made me go visit. Excursions like these became essential for breaking up the one-hour train ride (which always felt like two), from the long walk to grandma’s house.
Grandma’s house was always sunny, quiet, neat, and orderly – something I would learn to appreciate later on in life. Grandma’s clean meant sterile, like you could eat off the bathroom floor clean. Today, only homes with hired help might achieve this. Around two o’clock, supper always simmered on the stove (It seemed we always ate chicken, white rice, with string beans and carrots). Food was simple, meals scheduled- consistent. I loved hiding in her pantry. I was mesmerized by all the food, especially her supply of Canada Dry Ginger Ale. I would climb up into her snack cupboard to sneak “Pilot Crackers” -It was my secret pleasure. Back home a package, a box of cookies, or a bag of chips did not stand a chance amongst us three girls. Our cupboards were always bare. I told myself one day I would have a pantry too.
We always knew Mais was not our blood. The story goes, Florence Anderson and Gertrude Mais were best friends. Florence prophesized her death by child birth. Against the pleads of the father to not have the child, Gertrude made a pact with Florence to raise her daughter as her own. Anderson died at Harlem Hospital birthing my mother, Florence II. Today whenever I feel scared or insignificant, I recall grandma Mais- the Divine interference, an oath for filed. Life is not trivial. And each day I pray to not lose sight of this, my soul, a precious gift to be celebrated.